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Bridging the Digital Divide by Ensuring Broadband on Indian Tribal Lands

March 18, 2009 – The digital divide between America’s well-to-do regions and its rural and tribal countryside were on display in the first panel of the federal government’s Tuesday public meeting, in Las Vegas, on spending the broadband stimulus.

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News | NTIA-RUS Forum | Day 2, Session 1

March 18, 2009 – The digital divide between America’s well-to-do regions and its rural and tribal countryside were on display in the first panel of the federal government’s Tuesday public meeting, in Las Vegas, on spending the broadband stimulus.

The first of three panel discussions during the joint meeting of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service March 17 focused on the state of “vulnerable populations” within the United States, the need to drive demand for broadband, and the role of strategic institutions.

Jeff Sandstrom of the Nevada Commission on Economic Development said his state had witnessed an unprecedented population explosion in the context of “a large percentage of federally-owned land than any other state in the nation.”

A majority of the rural Nevadas have yet to access broadband, said Sandstrom, even though fiber networks laid down during the “.com” boom of the 1990s had provided that technological hope.

“The debate we are having here is one of access, not shortage or need or applications,” he said.

Finding ways to extend broadband would play a major role in Nevada’s “economic revolution,” Sandstrom said, particularly with the state’s focus on solar and geothermal power.Additionally, Nevada’s wildlife, agriculture, e-learning, telemedicine and business communities would benefit from better broadband, he said.

“The residents of Nevada would have a just access to a quality of life,” he said.

The Nevada Rural Housing Authority’s Gary Longacre decried the disparity of access to broadband between Nevada’s tribal areas and the rest of the country.

“Many of the communities in such contexts are either unserved or underserved,” he said. It is “too expensive to build the last mile.”

But rural and tribal communities still need broadband to access essential services.

Karen Twenhafel of Telecom Consulting Service, representing the National Tribal Telecommunication Association, said the stimulus funding for broadband was “extending an expensive opportunity.”

Eight American tribes, she said, already have their own telephone companies and continue to pursue “self-provision of communication services.”

Others among the Indian tribal lands – at least 29 percent, she said – still do not have access to broadband technology. “For 4.3 million Americans, this type of participation is simply not available.”

Seventy-five years after the passage of the Communications Act of 1934, there is still no formal tracking of telecommunications conditions, she said.

“In spending the broadband stimulus, priority ought to be given to service areas where the penetration rate of those service areas are below 15% or below of the national average of those services,” she said. Tribal lands should be designated as “separate and exclusive service areas.”

“We can no longer have applications that serve surrounding lands, but not the tribal lands,” she said. She also said that tribal governments should be consulted throughout the process.

Valerie Fast Horse, council member and director of information technology for the Coeur d’Alene tribe, continued with panel’s concern for broadband for tribal communities. “The communications of this nation is only as strong as its weakest link.”

She said that tribal and rural areas had been left behind in communication development. What is needed now, she said, is infrastructure “with a long shelf-life” – referring to fiber-optic technology appropriate for delivering broadband into rural communities.

“True communication development cannot happen if we only focus on capitalizing infrastructure and equipment, while ignoring our human spirit,” she said.

Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, noted that 1, 200 miles of fiber had already been laid in Nevada, and that it could aid transition into more widespread broadband – and public spending on broadband deployment.

During the public comment session, several panelists agreed upon the need to carry out environmental impact assessments and to development new energy sources, as part of wider broadband deployment.

Also, computer pricing issues might have to be addressed in order to help drive public demand for broadband technology.

A member of the audience warned that inner-city communities must not be neglected in an effort to mitigate rural and tribal needs.

The validity of some U.S. Census Bureau data validity was questioned, too, with Twenhafel saying that “phone penetration data is normally below what is reported in census data.”

Several individuals at the meeting said that wireless technologies were an important component of meeting the needs of rural and tribal areas.

NTIA

Senate Advances Legislation Creating Office of Internet Connectivity Within Commerce Department’s NTIA

Andrew Feinberg

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Photo of Sen. Maria Cantwell by Lance Cheung of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2020 – The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted to advance a version of legislation creating a new office with the Commerce Department, and  re-authorizing the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to protect consumers from deceptive internet marketing.

One bill would establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration of the Commerce Department.

While senators approved both the reauthorization of the US SAFEWEB Act and the Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand Act by voice vote.

The ACCESS BROADBAND Act requires the administrator of NTIA to establish a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within 180 days of the bill’s enacting date, with the aim of coordinating and streamlining the process of applying for various federal broadband support programs.

However, the amended version of the bill includes language authored by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., which specifically excludes the Universal Service Fund’s programs from the office’s mandate.

The bill would also require the new office to create a single application for the various federal programs under its auspices, as well as a website which would be a one-stop shop for individuals and institutions seeking to learn more about federal programs for expanding broadband access.

In her opening remarks before the committee began consideration of the bill, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking member, praised the “good bipartisan work” that went into drafting it.

“Closing the digital divide that so many communities particularly in our rural communities face is a priority for many members on this committee, and this bill is an important step in addressing that challenge,” she said.

“And I would I would say that this coronavirus is also a very strong learning lesson for us, as it relates to the gaps in broadband because you certainly need it as it relates to so many aspects of delivering on education and healthcare during this time period.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., later added that the bill, which she co-sponsored, will be helpful to Arizonans living in rural areas who may need help accessing better broadband services.

“Nearly 25 million Arizonans living in rural areas do not have access to high speed internet, so it’s crucial for Arizona that rural communities are afforded the same opportunity to stay connected as our urban areas, and the ACCESS BROADBAND Act moves us in the right direction,” she said. “It’s an essential step to help us close the digital divide and ensure everyone in my state and across our country can access quality, high speed internet and the opportunities that come with it.”

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NTIA

Panelists on NTIA Broadband Webinar Say Smart Buildings Boost Civic Resiliency and Public Health

Adrienne Patton

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Photo of London skyline by PXhere used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2020 – Speakers advocated civic resiliency and better public health through smart building infrastructure in a webinar discussion hosted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Wednesday.

Limor Schafman, senior director of Smart Buildings Programs at the Telecommunications Industry Association, said as buildings digitize, human experience will improve.

“A smart building uses an interoperable set of technology, systems and infrastructure to optimize building performance and occupant experience,” said Schafman. Smart buildings are not just for megacities. Rather, everyone shares resiliency and wellness concerns, and smart buildings are the answer, she said.

The purpose of a broadband-focused smart building is to digitize the infrastructure while maintaining occupants’ needs at the forefront of the innovation. Smart building infrastructure includes a focus on basic infrastructure, connectivity, power and energy, data, interoperable systems, and intelligence and cognition, said Schafman.

Smart buildings function through wireless or fiber connection and streamline data sharing across departments, combating or inter-departmental stagnation.

Wireless infrastructure also solves the problem of spaghetti wiring, said Benny Lee, Councilman and Director of San Mateo County Public Wi-Fi, in Northern California.

While wired building need dozens of switches on every floor, wireless buildings only need one or two.

Most 5G deployments using higher radio frequencies pose problems because such signals cannot travel through walls, said Lee. The “FCC has been discussing adding 6 [GigaHertz] spectrum to Wi-Fi, which promises connectivity speeds upwards of 5 [Gigabits per second]s,” he said.

Jiri Skopek, of a group called 2030 District Networks, argued that smart buildings save money while improving occupants’ quality of life. Speaking of smart buildings, he said, “we expect them now to respond to our needs, and even our wishes.”

Productivity increases, he said, because users can control the environment: lighting, air quality, temperature, occupancy sensing, shade control, white noise control, etc. These factors foster health and convenience.

Because smart buildings operate through microgrids, Skopek said, they run on direct current, which can integrate renewable energy.

In the case of natural disasters or emergencies, first responders can arrive quicker and know where the exact danger area is.

Schafman said municipalities can view the status of the building’s infrastructure because it has a virtual image. The buildings can also be run remotely, added Skopek.

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NTIA

Speaking at Commerce Department Symposium, Federal Agencies Doubt Benefits of Spectrum Plan

Masha Abarinova

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Photo of NTIA event by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2019- Federal agencies speaking at radiofrequency symposium hosted on Tuesday by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Symposium expressed doubts that any kind of a national spectrum strategy would be useful.

Addressing speculation that the Commerce Department’s NTIA might unveil such a national spectrum strategy, the officials each seemed focused on their doubts that such a strategy would be beneficial for their respective agencies.

Spectrum management needs to meet constantly changing demands, said R. J. Balanga, senior regulatory and policy adviser at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Increased spectrum usage and higher data-rate transmissions are required for human and robotic operations in space.

NASA’s main objective, he said, is to enhance interoperability by further cooperation with the commercial space industry and its international partners.

The Department of Defense occupies a great number of spectrum bands, said Colonel Frederick Williams, director of spectrum policy and programs at the Pentagon. He said spectrum has becoming increasingly congested.

Agencies must work together to combat spectrum issues, he said. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service, for instance, was established by the Federal Communications Commission as a way for shared wireless broadband use of the 3.5 GHz band.

Karen Van Dyke, principal technical adviser for Global Positioning Systems at the Department of Transportation, said that spectrum affects all modes of transportation. Therefore, it’s important that GPS are protected from harmful radio-frequency interference.

Furthermore, she said, close cooperation with private industries is required to best utilize spectrum innovation.

The government has so many layers of spectrum management that it’s difficult to determine the exact process, said Ian Atkins, director of the Federal Aviation Administration spectrum strategy and policy.

The FAA is committed to utilizing the least amount of spectrum possible, he said. However, what the agency is looking for is a return of investment to make sure that valuable spectrum programs are enacted.

With 5G approaching mass deployment, efficient spectrum management is key.

Dynamic spectrum sharing as well as extended range millimeter waves are going to dramatically increase 5G deployment, said Dean Brenner, senior vice president for spectrum strategy and technology policy at Qualcomm.

The hype surrounding the deployment of wireless 5G technology demonstrates that the public often gravitates its focus on a single set of technologies, said Christopher Szymanski, director of product marketing and government affairs at Broadcom. But there needs to be focus on the backhaul and wireless aspects of spectrum as well.

Cisco has projected increased usage of unlicensed spectrum in the coming years, said Szymanski. However, the U.S. lacks enough channels of spectrum to keep up with demand.

Hence why spectrum and infrastructure policies are necessary on both the state and federal level, said Hank Hultquist, vice president of federal regulatory for AT&T.

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